Begone, lowly Raptors! With Rudy Gay again out of commission with back spasms, the Knicks needed to take care of business emphatically at Madison Square Garden. That’s what they did from the second quarter on through a strong overall team effort. And what made this easy victory even sweeter was our conference rivals all lost (Pacers, Nets, Celtics), allowing the Knicks to slide back into second place.
There wasn’t much to complain about, so let’s get right to the highlights…
KENYON MARTIN REMAINS IN BEAST MODE: K-Mart ran roughshod over Toronto yesterday and did so again tonight. His active presence does so much to keep the offense flowing — he catches lobs, cleans up misses and NEVER lets anyone come into the paint without getting checked hard. He got away with a hard misse foul on Carl Lowry which turned into an Iman Shumpert three-pointer in the second.
In the same quarter, Martin got a huge block on John Lucas outside the paint. The hard-nosed defense got contagious with Shumpert blocking Landry Fields inside a few seconds later. The Knicks got possession, and Melo found K-Mart inside for a three-point play which pushed the lead to 59-47 at halftime.
Most impressive was Martin doing all his damage while sitting out the fourth, scoring 18 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and notching 2 blocks.
MELO DINES ON FIELDS: I normally have love for ex-Knicks, but Landry Fields lost a lot of good will from me when he started doing interviews basically blaming Melo for his post-rookie year regression (Riiight, like Melo was the reason you shot 56% from the free throw line last year). It’s no secret that these two don’t like each other, and Melo even got a flagrant 1 for a retaliatory shove from a Fields elbow.
Thankfully, Melo did the majority of his talking by torching Fields for 28 points on 9/19 shooting coupled with 8 rebounds. And in a big improvement from Friday’s game, Melo hit all his free throws (10 in all) and just had 2 turnovers. Melo feasted in the paint on an array of turnaround jumpers. Alan Anderson couldn’t do much better when he got the defensive assignment.
And like Martin, Melo did all this work in just three quarters and got to chill for the fourth.
THE SUPPORTING CAST: Melo and Martin were the leaders, but this was a strong team effort. JR Smith had 25 points (9/16 from the field) and kept his efficiency high by going strong to the rim. JR also managed to give the Raptors one final huge disrespect by scoring a layup in the final second after both teams had clearly stopped playing.
Shumpert continues to gain confidence defensively off ACL surgery — the second year guard forced the Raptor perimeter players into contested jumpers and logged 4 steals. Copeland got a Woody tongue-lashing for some first half bad defense, but tightened up and still brought it on offense (12 points). Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni didn’t have big scoring outings, but their defense was solid and helped to deflate the Raptors in the second half. And even Novak hit a long jumper off the dribble! *GASP*
THE LINEUP MOVING FORWARD: With K-Mart playing so well the last two games, the rumblings have already begun among fans about him starting. As a natural power forward, he increases our defense and offense, which takes some of the load off Tyson Chandler, and allows Melo to move back to his natural small forward position.
Coach Woodson put all that to rest by stating Martin will be off the bench when Chandler returns. I understand his reasoning. Our frontcourt depth has been ruined by injuries and with Martin also being an older player, he wants to make sure he’s fresh for the playoffs. If Martin were to start, the only true big we’d have off the bench is Marcus Camby (who’s been injury-prone this season).
It’s so frustrating when you think of how formidable this team could be with everyone healthy.
The Knicks get a few days of deserved rest before a big road game on Tuesday against a hated division rival in the Celtics. I’m sure I speak for all Knicks fans when I say I want that game badly.